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Lockdown Writing Challenge: Growing Old Gracefully With Le Mans

DSC's first submission for the Lockdown Writing Challenge is live!

Motorsport writing isn’t necessarily easy, but it is accessible and almost anyone can give it a good go. As part of DSC’s ‘Project Positivity’ drive, we’ve asked readers to submit features of their own as part of a wider Lockdown Writing Challenge.

The response has been staggering, with dozens and dozens of readers already submitting pieces of work to the DSC editor.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be posting the best of the bunch on DSC. Here is the first one, an experiential piece from Alec Nicholls about his first trip to Le Mans back in 2011:

It’s 2011 and I’ve just turned 40. Despite taking little interest in it before I decide I really want to attend the 24 Hours of Le Mans….. I decide I must be getting old. I persuade a group of my closest friends to come with me. Eight of us who went to school together. They all love the sport but none of them loves Motorsport, except me.

I’d moved on from F1, not bored with it per se, more I felt I’d grown out of it. I’d been watching Motorsport since 1981, first on TV, a very vivid memory of watching a yellow Renault (René Arnoux perhaps) drive past a swimming pool in the middle of a city. My first race live – the 1983 British GP at Silverstone – sitting on the grass on the inside of the old Becketts. Club events at my nearest track Castle Coombe. Trips across the country to meetings at Brands, Donington, Thruxton and Snetterton.

Any kind of car, and any level of the sport. The more races at the event, the better as far as I was concerned. Endurance racing eluded me. I didn’t avoid it as such but it just didn’t appeal. The same cars running around for hours on end? Just one race? 6Hours or 1000 kilometres? Really? Sounds boring, I’m not old enough for that! I was lucky enough to see F1 races in Hockenheim, Monaco and even Indianapolis.

Career focus, marriage and the arrival of children meant opportunities to attend motorsport were fewer. I missed standing by the side of a track watching races. I was stuck with F1 on the TV and it didn’t appeal so much… I was growing out of it.

And then 2011 arrived and off we went to Le Mans. My love of the sport returned in a 24-hour wave of joy. My initial reaction to it all was how mortified I was. What a thing of wonder I’d been missing all this time! Endurance racing. All that overtaking, all the time! Left, right, off the road on the Mulsanne, heart-stopping, breathtaking. GTE cars running in packs of five, no eight, no 10! Swapping places, dicing with one another. Lap after lap, hour after hour.

Prototypes driving at such speed, with downforce you can actually see working from the Maison Blanche campsite, as they sweep out of the Porsche curves. The silent stealth-like Audi E-Tron Quattro diesel lighting up the night sky as I sit on my camping chair at the entry to the Forest Esses. I look behind me, there’s a concert going on and dodgem cars being driven by folk several times over the drink-drive limit. Sitting opposite the pits at 3 am watching teams work on cars with exceptional precision. Full service.

Crawling into a sleeping bag in a tent on the edge of Karting or Porsche Curves. Shutting your eyes with the deafening and glorious sound of racing cars vibrating through your very core. As you sleep fitfully, you can always tell that the corvette is still in the race… That sound, so distinctive from the rest.

One of my sporty mates says, “I love it Al, it’s like a really noisy test match. ‘We’re coming again next year right?”. “Definitely I say, we’re grown-ups”. And the rest of my friends? They had a blast too. One described the start and the hour before as one of the greatest sporting spectacles he’d ever seen. We had great food, wine and beer. They went to the concert, they watched the race on big screens in the bars, and they kept their eyes on the cars I’d given them in the sweepstake. We spent time together and talked long into the night.

Old friends spending great times together. All at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year was to be our sixth return to the great race. Alas, it’s postponed but it will return, and so will we. A little older, a little more grown-up.

Do you want to write a piece of your own for DSC? Email with your submission. And remember, no opinion pieces!